Ham Radio, What Is It and Why Do They Do It?


So, you are interested in Ham Radio. Ham radio, officially called the Amateur Radio Service by the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, is a hobby, an avocation, a pastime, a calling, a public service opportunity. It is many things to many people. It can be whatever you want it to be. It exists around the world in almost every country.

First a little history. It is commonly accepted that Marconi invented radio and made the first radio transmission across the Atlantic Ocean back around 1901. Soon after there were amateurs experimenting with this new technology. For the next several decades as the development of radio technology continued, the amateur community grew, clubs were formed, amateurs provided communications to police and Arctic expeditions. Amateurs were responsible for many of the technical discoveries that continued to spread the use of radio in our society.

What is a 'Ham'? "Ham" is what the early telegraph operators called another operator who was not very good at sending. As wireless transmission of those telegraph signals became the norm, the commercial operators increasingly found themselves competing with amateurs for space on the airwaves and began calling the amateur operators, "hams". Well, I guess it stuck. Even though it started out as a derogatory term, hams have adopted it and now wear the label with pride.

Ham radio is first a hobby about communication with other people, sometimes people you do not know. The earliest ham operators' goal was to find ways to increase the distance their signals would travel, thereby enabling them to talk to more and more people in distant lands. Here in the twenty-first century we now have jet aircraft capable of carrying hundreds of people to distant places, cell phones that can literally connect us to another person with a telephone number anywhere in the world, and the Internet where we can watch videos made today by the average person worldwide. So why ham radio?

Ham radio is still a sought-after communications method. What's the draw? It's like a big 'party line'. Most people today do not remember the time when everyone shared the same phone line with his neighbors. If you picked up the telephone to make a call and someone was talking you had to hang up and wait awhile and try again later. With ham radio you call out and you never know who is going to answer! You could be talking to an author in England, an engineer in Syria, a restaurant owner in Australia, or a doctor on the next street. It can be a little intimidating at first, but lifelong friendships have developed this way. Just imagine how this helps foster international goodwill and can move toward world peace. And it’s a lot of fun!

Hams have many different activities available in this great hobby. For instance, some of the many things that interest hams are: contacting other people around the world, using repeaters to cover a wide local area with a hand-held or mobile radio , making contacts by bouncing their signal off of the moon or repeating it through a ham radio satellite. Some hams like to interconnect their transmitters and receivers to their computer for various ways to enhance the enjoyment they get from their hobby. They can now even talk to others through the Internet without actually using a radio.

Hams often operate their equipment from a home station, from a vehicle like a car, boat, plane or bicycle, or even a portable location while walking, on a picnic, or anywhere using a hand-held radio. Why do they do it? Many reasons: fun, excitement, love of science, intrigue, belonging to a social network and so many more.

Kenneth Eicher was first licensed as a ham radio operator in 1962. For more about Ken and for many more articles like this about ham radio, visit his website, http://hamradioscene.blogspot.com, where he blogs about ham radio.

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